Pitt Looks To Bounce Back

It's not easy to bounce back from a tough loss in the Big East Conference.

However, it's a good thing that the Pitt men's basketball team doesn't have much time to dwell on its loss to Louisville Saturday that dropped it from the unbeaten ranks and the No. 1 spot when the national polls are released this week.

The Panthers (16-1, 4-1) have the unenviable task of bouncing back against Syracuse (16-2, 5-1), which was ranked eighth last week and hammered Notre Dame by 19 at the Carrier Dome Saturday. But that's life in the Big East.

Pittsburgh faces the Orange at 7 tonight at the Petersen Events Center. The contest will be nationally televised on ESPN's Big Monday package with Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery (commentary).

"It was great to be No. 1 and the whole hoopla behind that, but we knew the Conference was going to be tough,'' senior point guard Levance Fields said. "We have a tough game every night, so Syracuse won't be any easier. (A loss) happens. You've just got to turn around and get it done (against the Orange).

"This was a tough loss. Some people say losses are good for you and things like that. We don't believe that. If you can win every game, why lose? We lost (Saturday), but the good thing is we get to turn around and play again.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and his staff viewed tape on Syracuse on the team's chartered flight home, and he had the Panthers back in the gym Sunday afternoon for a practice session.

"We'll be ready to go,'' Dixon said. "We'll learn from (the Louisville loss). You learn from wins, and you learn from losses. We learned from our 16 wins, and we've got to learn from our one loss. I think we will. Win or lose, we're pretty good at moving on to the next game.

"It's something we've always done. It's been a trademark of our team. (So), I think we'll be ready to go. Our guys always want to play. They want to play in a game, so either way -- win or lose -- they want to play a game shortly.''

Pitt, in the midst of a grueling stretch in which it plays four ranked teams in a five-game span, has fared well when it returns home after a road loss. Pitt lost consecutive games only once last season -- a three-game skid in February.

Since Dixon has been the head coach, the Panthers have lost consecutive games only four times. The Panthers are 22-9 after a loss and 11-3 under Dixon following a road loss. Pitt has won 13 straight home games and carries a 107-10 record (.914 winning percentage) at the Petersen Events Center.

Louisville was red-hot when the Panthers came to town, but Syracuse is playing even better. The Orange has won eight of its past nine games since a terrible loss to Cleveland State at home, and it squeezed No. 12 Notre Dame 93-74 at the Carrier Dome Saturday. Syracuse is 4-1 in games decided by five points or fewer, while Pitt hasn't played in a game decided by five points or fewer.

This is the first meeting between Pitt and Syracuse since the Panthers overcame an 11-point deficit in the final 3:49 to stun the host Orange, 82-77, in one of last season's most memorable games. Gilbert Brown's 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining and Sam Young's steal and no-look pass to Keith Benjamin for a hoop to put Pitt ahead, 78-77, with 11 seconds left were key plays.

Young, who has been in a slump the past three games, was the leading scorer with 19 points last year against Syracuse. Young has made just 15 of 49 shots in the past three games.

Five Syracuse players score in double figures. Sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn leads the way with 16.3 points per game. Flynn was the Big East rookie of the year, tied with Pitt center DeJuan Blair, last season. He is shooting at a 49-percent clip and ranks third in the Conference with 5.7 assists per game.

Redshirt junior Eric Devendorf is next in scoring at 14.4 points per game. The remaining starters are junior forward Paul Harris (13.9), redshirt junior center Arinze Onuaku (12.7) and Andy Rautins (10.5). The top scorer off the bench is sophomore center Rick Jackson at 7.6 points per game. Onaku is shooting 70.2 percent from the field, which ranks second in the NCAA. He has made 106 of 151 field-goal attempts, mostly from around the basket.

Despite a No. 15 RPI ranking and No. 43 strength of schedule rating, Syracuse has proven it's a top-level team with non-conference wins against Florida, Virginia and national champion Kansas at home, as well as at NCAA runner-up Memphis this season. In the Big East, the Orange have beaten Notre Dame at home and lost at Georgetown, to go with wins against lower-tier Big East teams.

While Louisville presented Pitt with a tough matchup due to its full-court pressure, Syracuse will provide a different challenge. The Orange is a highly-explosive offensive group that scores 81 points per game and primarily relies on a 2-3 zone at the defensive end. After committing a season-worst 20 turnovers against the Cardinals, Pitt likely will welcome the change.

Young, Blair and senior forward Tyrell Biggs will have their hands full inside with Onuaku and Jackson, while Flynn, Devendorf and Rautins will present outside threats. Devendorf has canned 11 of his 25 attempts from 3-point range in Big East play while Rautins, who missed last season with a knee injury, has made 19 of 40 attempts from long range.

Offensively, if Pitt can continue its outside shooting prowess, 28 baskets from 3-point range the past three games, it should be able to handle the Syracuse zone. The Panthers have made 10 treys each in the past two games.

Notes: Pitt and Syracuse meet for the 97th time in series history. Syracuse holds a 61-35 advantage in the series. Pitt is 21-24 all-time in home games vs. the Orange. Pitt has claimed 10 of the last 13 meetings between the two schools including five of the last six at home.

Several Pitt players are ranked among the national leaders. Blair is second in rebounding with 13 per game and leads the nation in offensive rebounds with 6.2 per game. He is also ranked No. 22 in field goal percentage (59.4). Fields leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.71) and ranks second in assists per game (7.1), while Young is rated 52nd in scoring (18.7 points per game). Fields needs just five assists to become the sixth Pitt player to surpass the 1,000-point and 500-assist marks for a career. He has 495 career assists.

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